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What keeps me awake at night? The prospect of returning to the state-school system

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I dream of sticky notes. Yellow ones stuck fastidiously next to my laptop keyboard; blue ones adorning my desktop screen; stripy designer ones stuck to the end of the yellow ones that then cascade down in a shower of tasks undone.

And never is a sticky note more on my mind than on a Sunday night. At 2, 3, 4am, I toss and turn restlessly, thinking of the marking, report writing, reference writing that must be done.  

To my dismay, this pattern emerges regardless of the country I teach in. Last year, I left the state-school system to pursue a teaching job abroad. I now work at a British international school and, unsurprisingly, the workload remains just as substantial.

I thought that the unfinished nature of the job was something I would grow accustomed to. After nine years in the profession, I have in some ways. Perhaps if this intense workload were the only stress I were facing, I would sleep better. But in addition to the sticky notes, I am facing the reality of a return to England. My move abroad was a temporary adventure; I signed a two-year contract intent on returning home upon its completion.

The thought of returning to the state-school system is causing me considerable anxiety. I have recurring nightmares where I replay scenes of incessant scrutiny: the book looks, learning walks and departmental mock Ofsted inspections; the new initiatives to increase A*-C grades that edge out actual subject teaching; the environment where league tables dictate classroom practice.

I am not alone. My British colleagues at the international school consider a move back to England untenable. They find teaching a rewarding career, but since the critical-thinking aspect of education seems to be on the backburner of many state schools’ agendas, they stay abroad. My colleagues opt against being continually denigrated by a system that undermines their expertise as educators.

And so, the biggest to-do on my pile of sticky notes remains: make a decision about returning to state education. 

The writer is a teacher at an overseas British international school

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